It’s undeniable that the release of the Kindle Fire, and along with it the competing Nook Tablet, has shaken up the Tablet PC market. Since launch Amazon has already firmly taken second place next to the Apple iPad, selling as many as 5 million units in the 4th quarter of 2011 alone. Barnes & Noble is also doing pretty well, having moved more than a million of their own tablet in the same time period. The way things are going with these two, there has even been some speculation that there is no room for dedicated hardware manufacturers with this kind of competition.
Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble are selling their tablets at near, or possibly even below, the cost of production. The goal is to get people hooked into the platform and make ongoing profits based on media sales. Effectively, the hardware has become secondary now that it can be treated as a conduit for consumption rather than an end in and of itself. Amazon is doing a better job on this side of things than Barnes & Noble so far.
The Nook Tablet has the technically superior hardware, with double the RAM and double the storage space among other things, but doesn’t make very good use of it. The storage is restricted and the interface doesn’t seem to run significantly smoother than the Kindle Fire‘s. There is an SD slot to expand the available memory of the device, but to get a sufficiently large one to make a difference you can expect to add a significant percentage onto the already comparatively more expensive price. None of this means that it is a bad tablet, it’s actually quite excellent and highly recommended, but it is worth noting that B&N has a way to go before they are really making the best use out of their device’s potential.
The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, lacks some of the power of the Nook. What it does have is a deeper integration with Amazon.com’s storefront and content. Unlike B&N, Amazon has their own source of video and music for customers to take advantage of, as well as a robust cloud storage service that makes up for a lot of the seeming shortcomings of the hardware. The lower price certainly doesn’t hurt sales numbers either, especially given the inevitable comparison of both products to each other and the iPad.
We can expect sales for both tablets to be improving even more through the next year. The Kindle line, and the Kindle Fire in particular, is one of Amazon’s biggest marketing priorities, while the Nook line is pretty much the only thing B&N has going for it right now in terms of profitability. What remains to be seen is what effect the next iteration of the Kindle tablet line brings. A larger tablet could cement Amazon’s place on top of tablets for the foreseeable future, second only to Apple, but it could also severely damage the company’s reputation if something goes wrong and open the door to a big push by Barnes & Noble.
Either way we have good products to work with, but both Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet are built for content consumption and that means active ongoing support. The more popular each one becomes, the more incentive the associated company has to expand the platform, and the more valuable the tablet in question becomes for owners. It will be interesting to see the back and forth as the competition heats up in months to come.